Miller's value with Steelers beyond stats

| Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009

Ask Steelers tight end Heath Miller what his on-the-field strengths are, and the soft — but well-spoken — 26-year old won't single out anything specific.

Leave it to his quarterback to brag about him, then.

"He is one of the best, if not the best, all-around tight ends in the game," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers organization must feel the same way about Miller, their first-round draft pick out of Virginia in 2005. On July 29, two days before players reported to training camp, the Steelers signed Miller to a six-year contract worth $35.3 million.

Consider that Miller's new contract makes him the third-highest paid tight end in the NFL, just behind Tampa Bay's Kellen Winslow Jr. and Indianapolis' Dallas Clark, and Roethlisberger might not be bragging about Miller's elite status, even if nobody else is.

"To me, Heath does not get even close to the credit he deserves," Roethlisberger said. "He doesn't get that credit because he doesn't put up the big numbers."

Not that you'd hear Miller complaining. Though he set a career high with 48 receptions in 2008, his 514 yards ranked 15th among all NFL tight ends, and his three touchdowns, down considerably from seven in 2007, were tied for 13th.

Even so, the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Miller seems to enjoy having a versatile role in the Steelers' offense under coordinator Bruce Arians.

"It's fun," he said. "I think it's fun to be a tight end in this offense. Coach Arians asks us to do a lot of different things, and it's fun to do those things, whether it's being able to be a big part of the passing game, be in motion a lot, be in the backfield some. It's fun to do all those things."

That includes blocking, and Miller is becoming especially good with his technique. Roethlisberger said anybody who goes against Miller would say just how good he is, and Steelers linebacker James Harrison lauded Miller for his hand placement.

Miller's numbers could just be a product of the Steelers' abundance of passing-game playmakers. After all, no other offense in the NFL features two Super Bowl MVPs — Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes — at wide receiver.

"As an offense, we have a lot of threats," Miller said. "It's tough to defend everybody. That's what makes our group special, that all we care about is winning. We don't really care who scores, as long as we put enough points on the board and we have enough points to win. That's all we care about."

Still, Miller faced some uncertainty in the offseason. He had minor surgery in June to repair a sports hernia — he had the same surgery done in 2005 while still at Virginia — and was heading into the final year of the rookie contract he signed with the Steelers after being drafted.

Miller says he tries not to look too far into the future, but admitted that if you would have asked him several years ago that he "would have hoped to be in this position," with a chance to become arguably the best tight end in Steelers history and with an established relationship with Roethlisberger.

"This will be our fifth year together, and it looks like we're going to have a few more years together," Miller said. "So I feel real lucky to have a quarterback like him for the majority of my career.

"I realize how blessed I am to be here," Miller said. "To be drafted by the Steelers, then to be given the opportunity to play a few more years here, I couldn't have drawn it up any better."

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